11 Things to Do in Phoenix/Scottsdale

By Sandra Scott

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Phoenix and Scottsdale in Arizona are equal distance from the Phoenix airport so deciding where to stay can be a difficult decision. Scottsdale is a more relaxed location with a wonderful historic district while Phoenix is a more vibrant city. Each location has important sites within their city but many of the must-visit sites are located between the two cities. The area is popular with snow birds so there are many condos and hotels and RV parks; so, for a week or for the winter, visitors will find something to enjoy.

Here are 10 great things to do in the region:

1. Musical Instrument Museum — “Music is the language of the soul” and something everyone can enjoy regardless of their culture. The museum’s Geographic Gallery is a trip around the world through music with tableaus that feature the musical instruments of an area plus the clothing and other artifacts. Most vignettes include a video of groups playing their instruments in native apparel. There are more than 6,800 instruments on display.

2. Taliesin — Taliesin means the “brow” of the mountain. Frank Lloyd Wright’s beloved winter home fits that definition. “Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world,” wrote Wright. It is a national historic landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. It is also the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin. It is more than Wright’s home, is it also a museum and a school of architecture. Wright became enamored with Asian art so there are many Asian art objects throughout the house.

3. Phoenix Art Museum — The walls and ceilings of the museum’s entrance are covered by Carlos Amoralas’ artwork called “Black Cloud,” a “plaque of 25,000 black paper moths and butterflies” meant to represent the annual migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada to Mexico.

Alexander Calder may be best known for his mobiles but his art work is a burst of color resembling his mobiles. There is a fascinating art display of “paintings” that have moving characters obviously based on video games.

4. Heard Museum — Entering the “Native People of the Southwest” at the Heard Museum there is a 30-foot-long glass/clay art fence with many hidden images in the sculptures. The Heard has one of the largest collections of kachina dolls that are representations of a Pueblo ancestral spirit. The museum has changing exhibits and lectures along with unique offerings such as yoga classes. On its First Friday evenings visitors can enjoy fun, food, drinks with free general admission to the museum’s galleries.

5. OdySea Aquarium — The aquarium is the largest marine aquarium in the Southwest. There are more than 30,000 animals. The aquarium offers educational, interactive, and entertaining experiences for the entire family. There are a couple hands-on stations such as the sturgeon and stingray touch pools. Certified guides lead visitors into an underwater environment with marine life from the Indo-Pacific region. A Living Sea Carousel which takes guests through the Open Ocean, Sea Turtle, Sea Lion/Seal and Shark exhibits.

6. Western Spirit — Western Spirit: Scottsdale Museum of the West is a Smithsonian affiliate located in Old Town. Beside a fine display of Western artwork they have a wonderful collection of Hopi pottery that spans six centuries. The Abe Hays Family “Spirit of the West Collection” of saddles, spurs, badges, and clothing is extensive. Check out the sculpture garden and see if there are any theatrical shows playing in their theater.

7. Desert Botanical Garden — At the entrance to the gardens there is a Chihuly glass sculpture but there are also unique sculptures scattered throughout the gardens. Walk the trails. During the blooming season, the desert wildflowers and cacti are an explosion of color. Hike the Sonoran Desert Trail for a great view of the mountains that surround the gardens and Phoenix. Docents were available to answer questions and give demonstrations. Try to visit the Desert Botanical Garden around Christmas time in the evening when 8,000 luminaries are lit.

Taliesin is Frank Lloyd Wright’s beloved winter home in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale.
Taliesin is Frank Lloyd Wright’s beloved winter home in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale.

8. Pueblo Grande— Pueblo Grande Ruin, a National Historic Landmark, is a large prehistoric Hohokam Indian village site that was continuously occupied between 100 and 1450 AD and was heavily influenced by contacts with Mexico. The museum contains exhibits on the Hohokam people. There are free interactive programs on the third Sunday of the month. Take a class, join a workshop, or take a tour. Check out their annual event that range from a lecture series to Navajo Rug and American Indian Art Auction to Gourd Dancing.

9. Arcosanti — Arcosanti, a projected experimental town about 70 miles north of Phoenix, is worth the drive for those who are interested in acrology, the concept of merging architectural and ecological principles designed for buildings in densely populate areas. The brain child of Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti began in 1970 as an experiential learning center with walk-through demonstrations of how to pursue alternatives to urban sprawl while saving resources and improving the quality of life for all.

10. Wind Talkers — Check out the Wind Talkers memorial honoring the Navajos who gained fame as Wind Talkers during World War II when, by using the complex Navajo language, they were able to communicate messages for the allied forces without the Japanese understanding the messages.

11. Ro Ho En, the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix — It includes a tea garden and tea house in its 3.5 acres. The famed Biltmore Hotel is where Irving Berlin wrote “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” while he was sitting in the sun around the hotel’s pool.